by Becky Udman
TJP Parenting Columnist
Here’s this week’s question:
What are your thoughts about lying down with children when they are going to sleep? Our three- year-old daughter wants us to do this every night. Should we just do it so that she will go to sleep and hope that eventually she will not want us to do it any more, or is it important for her to learn to fall asleep by herself? Often we have the time and don’t mind, but the nights that we can’t, she cries and cries that she needs us to lie down with her. What are your thoughts?
Tired mom in Plano
A: One of the most common challenges that parents face is bedtime. There are very few parents who tell me that their best parenting skills come out at that time!
Most of us are at the end of our rope by bedtime, and when our children don’t go to bed in a timely fashion, we feel taken advantage of. It is possible for bedtime to go smoothly when we establish a consistent routine.
Your question fits in with the basic premise that children (actually all people) appreciate freedom and privileges when they are given gradually, in small doses, rather than giving them and later taking them away.
This is what noted psychologist and parent educator Dr. Sylvia Rimm refers to as the “v” in “love.”
Many parents’ conduct is like an upside-down/inverted “V” with a closed top and a large opening on the bottom. The opening represents choices, and the lines represent limits V .
They start out by allowing their children to make too many decisions. The children may eat whenever they want, stay up as late as they want, and play with as many toys as they want. The parents even cater to them by serving them whatever they want for dinner, rather than what the rest of the family is eating (assuming that food allergies and sensitivities do not apply). And they’ll lie down with them whenever they want.
This is represented by the wide opening at the bottom of the upside-down “. V
These parents usually realize after a while that things are a little out of control (or, more accurately, that their children have too much control). They try to pull back and set limits by saying such things as, “No, this is what’s for dinner, and that’s it.” Or, “You’re getting bigger, and I have things to do, so I can’t lie down with you.”
This type of effort is like an upside-down “The walls (limits) come closer at the top, as the children’s choices are more limited. Studies have shown that all people, including children, resent having control taken away from them, once it’s been given.
A much healthier and effective approach to the lying-down issue, as well as other conflicts, is symbolized by a “V” that is right-side up. The space is narrowest at the bottom. As children get older, we can “widen the space” and give a little more, gradually relinquishing so much control. The opening slowly becomes larger, and the limits (the walls) get wider.
Children appreciate being given a little more control over their own lives than they previously had. There is much to learn from this idea, in terms of building responsibility, relationships, and teaching children how to make good decisions.
I can answer your specific question employing the “right-side-up V” formula.
First of all, I would not begin any behavior unless you are comfortable having it as part of your everyday lifestyle. This includes not only lying down with your child, but such things as whether the child may have a Facebook page, setting (or not setting) the child’s bedtime, etc.
If you enjoy lying down with your child, but only from time to time, then let her have a few “lie-with-me passes” a month. That way, she can have that need met, but it won’t become a given.
Following the “right-side-up V” formula helps produce happy children who know the limits.
Mrs. Becky Udman is preschool director of Torah Day School of Dallas (TDSD), a facilitator in the Love & Logic parenting method, director of Camp Kesher, and the mother of 13 (six boys and seven girls, ages infant through 20).